School district facing layoffs

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By Pat Faherty

The final numbers are still locked up in the legislative process, but reduced funding for education could force the Gadsden County School Board to layoff up to 88 employees.

This is shaping up like the worst budget year for education in the last 20 years," said Superintendent Reginald C. James. "What make this more difficult than anything I've faced is that we have in the last three years had to cut our budget continually."

This has meant foregoing raises for district workers and having everyone except teachers take furloughs -- unpaid time off.

"The problem is," James pointed out, "we've done as much as we can." he said the district has reduced the number of employees through attrition and retirements and the cut the number of administrators from 63-51. "We're working bare-bones."

It is an area the district has already been dinged for during accreditation. Gadsden was cited for "administratively having too few people doing too many jobs." As an example, the position of assistant superintendent has been kept vacant this year.

And now it appears there will be no replacement for the stimulus money ( over $3 million) and the state will cut another $1 million, so the district is facing a $4 million dollar loss. It is a bad situation for everyone in the state, he said.

Indeed, various school districts around Florida have already publicized plans to cut programs and personnel in preparation for state funding cuts.

"That cannot be absorbed, it is too much money at one time," said James. "That's where our real problem is. We've been doing this (cutting) a long time, so where are we going to cut now?"

He said they have a total of 88 people they have funded with stimulus dollars. Now with that money going away plus losing another million dollars, the  only thing they can do is cut personnel. He said can absorb some of it through retirements and attrition, but it won't be 88 positions.

"There will be layoffs," he said. "There's no way we can get around it."

In response, a district committee has developed a plan to eliminate "clusters of employees, such as para-pros or music and art. But James believes the pain will have to be spread around, with cuts from everywhere instead of attacking specific areas.

"We've got to cut from everywhere to come up with that much money," he said. "It's 88 people. "Unless someone can get the legislature to give us some more money, there nothing we can do about it."

While James has ruled out any adjustments to the teacher's base, most everything else is on the table as far solving the problem once retirements and attrition have been absorbed. He cited the possibility of some workers coming forward to take additional furlough time and hopes to hear more ideas before the year is out.

"This is the most serious issue we're had to deal with," he said.

He mentioned that teachers are also facing a separate financial issue as the governor and legislators debate how much educators should be taxed (3 to 5 percent) to fund their retirement plans.

As for estimates out of Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott's budget proposed a reduction of about 8 percent, which translates to roughly $608 per student. The budget passed by the state House cuts education about 7.7 percent and the state Senate version cuts about 7 percent. Each takes roughly $1 billion out of education funding.

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, has called the House budget, "inconsiderate and irresponsible." He cited its negative impact on education, health care and services for the poor.